Researchers debate whether hand and arm gestures add to the meaning of verbal speech. In other words, do the hand and arm motions people make get the meaning of their speech across better than a lack of hand and arm motions? There are arguments both ways: that gestures are integral to understanding a speaker’s real meaning, and that they are not, as evidenced by the popularity radio broadcasts, podcasts, and various other audio media.
Perhaps the question should be, how do hand and arm gestures reinforce or contradict what is being said through speech? There is little question that a person’s hand and arm gestures can reveal deception, frustration, or truthfulness.
Certain arm gestures convey seriousness, as evidenced by the mother crossing her arms firmly upon catching her child doing something he shouldn’t do. Broad arm gestures indicate enthusiasm, though if they’re overdone, they can indicate a lack of confidence.
If you are meeting someone for the first time, or if you are giving a talk to a room full of people, the actions of your hands and arms will tell their own story. Whether it matches or contradicts what you want to communicate is something you can learn to control to some extent.
Generally speaking, the more relaxed arms and hands are, the freer they are to move, the more confidence you project. Arms stiffly held by the sides with fists clenched indicate anger or fear. Stiff or crossed arms with small, agitated motions of the hands signal dishonesty, as do hands clasped behind the back when one is looking at the ground.
On the other hand, overly broad hand and arm gestures can make a person look as if he is trying too hard, again raising the question of the speaker’s honesty. When someone’s arms are roughly at their sides, elbows slightly bent, and hands relaxed, they appear confident and truthful. If you practice this stance in speaking or situations in which you are introduced to others, you will learn to consistently convey a sense of trustworthiness and competence.
edited by Logen